Seattle WA Sept 6 2020 Seattle has not yet seen large groups of amateur militia coming into the city from around the region to make a right wing stand against protesters. The groups here — and especially on Capitol Hill — are professionals.
The city’s parks department has now added to the influx, hiring private security to patrol Cal Anderson Park this week following another police raid and camp sweep.
It doesn’t always go well.
“Jaguar Security opted to leave the park on Tuesday evening as the large crowd of protestors was not responding to requests to disperse, and continued to harass the security guards,” a Seattle Parks spokesperson tells CHS.
The department says it and Seattle Police “will continue to reassess the situation regularly.”
SPD, meanwhile, says it does not coordinate with the private companies but police are contacted about threats occasionally. The official line: SPD does not engage in “operational efforts or coordinating resources” with any private company, a department spokesperson tells CHS.
Even without SPD’s help, the companies working on Capitol Hill continue to grow. There is a need for a trained security force beyond police, Joseph Spiro of security firm Iconic Global says.
The recent deadly violence in Kenosha and Portland has come, in part, because poorly trained, armed individuals are putting themselves in dangerous situations, Spiro said.
“There’s a big difference between intention and training,” Spiro said.
CHS reported here in June on the arrival of Iconic Global on Capitol Hill during CHOP as the private “high threat protection” team became part of the conflicts in the area as it worked to protect what Spiros said was a set of client properties and businesses.
In August, we reported on the increased presence of private security in the neighborhood and a clash between private guards and protesters that required police to rush in.
There is concern from many including Capitol Hill business owners and property owners CHS has spoken with that there is little difference between the armed militia members seen in cities like Kenosha and the wave of private security entrepreneurs
Others have welcomed the groups.
Craig Swanson of Redside Partners, a firm that manages several Capitol Hill properties including the Odd Fellows Building at 10th and Pine, says he has been so satisfied with Iron and Oak’s presence, he hopes the firm remains “a long term” part of the neighborhood.
“To the extent that their services, are needed, we’re excited to have them part of the community,” Swanson said.
The small company has certainly made itself at home. Office space inside the historic Odd Fellows — also home to businesses including the Century Ballroom and Molly Moon’s Ice Cream — has been turned into the “IAO command center,” owner Aleksandr Butowicz says. And he boasts of the Pan-Tilt-Zoom camera setup he has in place atop the masonry building overlooking Cal Anderson Park. It is there, Butowicz says, to keep an eye on protesters — and the police.
“They look up at roof lines just like anyone else,” Butowicz says of SPD, “and the PTZ’s are huge, even four stories up. A civilian might assume they just see regular surveillance cameras, but the cops know what they are, and navigate accordingly.”
If that kind of approach to a relationship with the police sounds different, it’s because Butowicz’s company is different. Iron and Oak, Butowicz points out, is nothing like the armed militia in Minnesota and he says the company is also unlike Iconic Global.
For starters, Iron and Oak is not licensed as a security company in the state of Washington limiting the kinds of actions it can take. Butowicz says Iron and Oak personnel are also armed with pepper spray paintballs not bullets.
“We actually used to carry no weapons whatsoever,” Butowicz said in one of several long text messages he has sent to CHS about his work over recent weeks. We’ve edited some of the messages for clarity.
“No OC, tasers, batons – nothing. Up until the last few weeks, we’ve always been able to either talk our way out of the problem (most of the time), or handle it with hands only. We’ve never caused a serious injury to a person we’ve been hands on with, and that’s most certainly by design in our training systems.”
But now pepper ball guns have been added to the Iron and Oak mix when standing guard at the Odd Fellows and, increasingly in the field trailing the smaller, faster moving groups of demonstrators active on the Hill in late summer..
“We shifted because my staff are usually outnumbered 10-15 to one.”
Butowicz says there are other differences. He is there, he says, to support the protest movement. His first presence at CHOP was running the team of “Red Shirt” medics.
The Odd Fellows headquarters now also makes room for a “Red Shirt Trauma Medics SPC.”
Iron and Oaks’ place on the edge of the security industry doesn’t bother Swanson at Redside who says he hired the company on the recommendation of a business tenant. That service put Butowicz inside the world of demonstrators and activists that has collided with day to day life around Capitol Hill. And it has set Iron and Oak in an interesting place, he says.
“Understand man, everyone competing against us in the security community hates us,” Butowicz said. “We were so able to undermine SPD with only a red t-shirt, some gauze, and Facebook (no Twitter), that the community bought us an office. Our space in Odd Fellows is crowd funded.”
The state is wishy washy at best about what constitutes a “security service.”
“The services provided by a private security guard are not detailed in state law. Federal law does describe the services provided by a private security guard,” a spokesperson for the Washington Department of Licensing tells CHS. “Usually, a private security guard license is required when providing contracted security guard services as defined under federal law.”
“I don’t care what they call themselves,” Swanson said. “From our perspective, they provide security for the Odd Fellows Building.”
Anybody who hires Iconic Global, however, is looking for something more. Armed and easily mistaken for police or military, the team has been a presence during nearly every moment of nearly every protest, demonstration, and Molotov cocktail around the East Precinct.
Spiro told CHS last month that his teams had also recently switched tactics, begging to follow protests and marches because it became difficult to track the groups. Demonstrators active on Capitol Hill late this summer have been less and less likely to allow video streamers or media in their midst. The security teams following the crowds can radio other Iconic Global personnel to alert them when a client property might be threatened. The tracking, Spiro acknowledged, brought new tensions to the relationship between the security teams and the marchers. “We’re not instigating with them,” Spiro told us in August. “Our presence does make them feel that way.”
The full security operation — Iconic Global is, indeed, licensed to provide security services in the state — is a costly endeavor. Spiro says the licensing, gear, weaponry, and finding qualified, licensed staff is only part of it. Insurance is hugely expensive.
“If I had to, I’d up my license to armed overnight,” Butowicz of Iron and Oak explained. “That’s only a couple hundred bucks. But my insurance will go from $17,000 per month to almost $80,000 per month. I’d have to close.”
The costs, Spiro acknowledged are piling up after months of service on Capitol Hill. The future of his business and his clients is a concern and Spiro says Iconic is “exploring alternative means of protecting our clients in a more long term/financially maintainable fashion.”
The end goal for Iconic Global is unclear. The end of the protests would mean the end of this particular stream of revenue for the company. Spiro said that wouldn’t put Iconic Global out of business and there is plenty of other security work for the firm. But, for now, patrol on Capitol Hill is a good deal for his clients.
“While maintaining a security presence can be financially straining, having your windows smashed out on a nightly basis can be, too.”
Butowicz’s Red Shirt medics have also been a presence during the months of protest
Back inside Cal Anderson, Seattle Parks says it hired Jaguar Security “to provide a presence in the park overnight” and that the company is still intended to be part of securing the area from campers and protest gatherings.
“We were working with them on a night-to-night basis, as we reassess daily the security needs for Cal Anderson Park,” the Seattle Parks representative said.
Butowicz in the Odd Fellows Building, meanwhile, sees no end game. Iron and Oak is here to stay and ready to take on more work in the neighborhood.
“My employees have been walking the park for a week now, in full uniform,” Butowicz writes in a pitch about his company sent to media this week. “We have been integral in the fire intervention efforts in the neighborhood, and are currently the only company that will be able to do this job without endangering either park goers, or our employees.”
“We can service this in a respectful and nonviolent manner, from an office directly within the community being served,” he writes.